So, Another Muslim Influencer Took Her Hijab Off. Why Does it Matter?
In recent weeks and months, we’ve seen a number of Muslim bloggers and influencers with large platforms remove their hijab. Every time it happens, it seems that the community goes through the same motions:
- An angry, judgmental outcry comes from one side that says something like, “How could you do this? We gave you our support as a hijabi and this is how you repay us?!”
- Acceptance and support comes from one side that says something like, “This is your own journey—do what’s right for you! We support you no matter what you decide.”
- Articles are written.
- Discussions are had.
And then, we move on. (At least until the next famous hijabi decides to remove her veil.)
The hijab is, hands-down, the most visible act of worship in our religion—and yes, the hijab is a mandated act of worship, not simply a “personal choice,” as is often mistakenly said. Prayer, fasting, charity, and other acts of worship are usually done in the privacy of our own homes or mosques, or are otherwise basically invisible to the public eye.
Whereas the hijab is the clearest, most definitive marker of a Muslim woman.
As Muslim women (particularly in the West) can attest, wearing the hijab in a post-9/11 world has been rife with challenges, and automatically puts them on the radar of bigots and Islamophobes alike. Those challenges—as well as internal spiritual struggles—have not gone away. Nor are they likely to anytime soon.
To those who are concerned that there is a “troubling pattern” amongst Muslim influencers, I ask the following question: have women not been struggling with hijab for as long as we can remember—even before social media existed? Of course we have!
Every one of us has friends or family members who have wrestled with hijab, have removed their hijabs, have put it back on only to remove it again, etc. This is not a new “pattern.” It has been happening for a long, long time. The only difference is that we've now added social media to the mix, catapulting the visibility of this struggle.
When this does happen to people we know, we usually empathize. Or at least we try. We understand that our faith fluctuates and that this act of worship is hard (and thus, we also understand the great reward that comes with it, by God’s Will). Yet none of these women in our circles have faced the kind of backlash and outrage that Muslim influencers are facing.
The act of an individual Muslim woman removing her hijab vs. an influencer removing it is essentially the same. Yes, even influencers are human (gasp!). But the results are unfortunately very, very different.
We can talk about the politics of removing hijabs and not removing hijabs until we’re blue in the face. But what we haven’t spoken about yet is the very concept of a world where “influencers” matter so much to us, that seeing them make mistakes affects us on such a deep, spiritual level.
Allah (swt) asks us to hold ourselves accountable. We are not going to be asked about the actions or intentions of others. We will only be questioned about what we have put forth into the world.
Influencers are not our role models. They should have never been in the first place, and they should never be in the future. Many influencers themselves have come out and said this exact statement.
Our role models—the people that we adjust our beliefs and actions to imitate—are those whom Allah (swt) mentions in the Quran, and those who are praised in the sunnah. That’s it!
Of course, we naturally look up to scholars, and important figures of the past as well. But there is no present-day scholar, or present-day influencer that we should follow so rigidly and blindly that we become utterly devastated should those people err (which they will inevitably, because they’re humans like us). If we take them as role models, and then become distraught when they make mistakes, then the fault is only our own.
I do believe it’s important to critique people in the public eye and hold them accountable for their actions that undoubtedly have ripple effects. But while we are so quick to jump into action when public figures err, we should simultaneously question our own involvement.
Instead of jumping to a judgmental place when we see an influencer making choices we don’t accept or condone, we should first ask ourselves whether or not we are complicit in that person’s ability to have such a huge effect in the first place.
Yes, I said complicit. That’s a big, heavy word to use. But I will use it nonetheless.
With our personal devices, we follow, like, share, and comment all over influencers’ accounts. Even having the most rudimentary knowledge of social media algorithms is enough to know that these actions propel influencers forward. The engagement they receive on their content from us makes their content visible to more viewers, and they continue to grow their platforms. We did that, not them.
We have collectively made the choice to give unreasonably large platforms to regular, everyday folks just like us. The only difference between them and the rest of us is they know how to curate beautiful photos and post often enough, and content that’s provocative enough to keep people interested.
We have stayed when those influencers have advertised to us—even unethically produced products or companies with questionable principles. We have stayed when influencers have made problematic and sometimes racist remarks. We have stayed while they have misrepresented Islam, blocked and deleted any comments from “trolls” who disagreed with them, and shown general disdain for people who do not see eye-to-eye with them.
We. Have. Stayed.
And by staying, we have allowed influencers to retain their platforms, and even monetize our viewership. And so yes, as long as we are present, we are complicit.
It cannot be stated enough times that influencers are humans who will make mistakes just like every other person on the planet. Maliciously discussing their personal lives or questioning their intentions is of no benefit.
Rather, we should discuss the systemic flaws that allow influencer culture (in all its forms) to have such a significant grip on our lives, and eventually on the upbringing of our kids.
To me, it has never actually been about the hijab. To boil it down to a piece of cloth is disingenuous. The very concept of giving someone such a large platform based on no particular merit or higher goal or push for societal change is the problem. Regardless of whether or not they wear the hijab.
It automatically sets us up for disappointment because we know when that person inevitably makes a mistake, it will affect a huge number of people.
At the end, we only have the power to control what we do. We have the power to consciously not take influencers as role models. We have the power to not engage with influencers who exhibit problematic behaviours–or any influencers at all, if we’re so inclined.
And we have the power to care deeply about the state of our own selves and the people in our lives instead of getting hung up on what random people across the world are doing.
May Allah (swt) grant us the guidance we need to attain His paradise. May He keep our hearts firm on this religion.